Poor communication in the workplace is more than just a nuisance. Left unchecked, it can impede performance, destroy morale, and cause your best talent to leave.
So what can you do to fix it? Thankfully, a lot. But first, you need to understand what causes poor workplace communication and what kind of damage it does.
What Causes Poor Communication in the Workplace?
Lack of Psychological Safety
Psychological safety, as defined by Harvard researcher Amy Edmondson, is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” When Google set out to find out what makes an effective team, psychological safety stood out as the most important quality.
Without it, your team will be too afraid to speak up for fear of retribution or punishment. When it doesn’t feel like a safe space to voice concerns, criticism, or failure, people will keep quiet–even to their and their team’s detriment.
Organizations without documented communication guidelines or an internal communication strategy are leaving their employees in the dark. When your team doesn’t know how, when, or how often they’re expected to check in, they’re unlikely to say anything at all.
Low Employee Engagement
Disengaged employees are mentally checked out of their jobs and do the bare minimum to get by. So they don’t see a point in going the extra mile and communicating. If your organization has low employee engagement, this might cause poor communication in your workplace.
Chaotic Work Environment
A chaotic work environment may be one where there is no clear chain of command, unsafe working conditions, or even loud and distracting spaces. All of these make it difficult to communicate.
And working from home doesn’t necessarily solve this. Even those who get to work from their living room are not immune to the distractions of home life—noisy neighbors, crying children, and needy pets can interrupt their workday.
Managers’ Fear of Giving Feedback
A survey by Interact and Harris Poll found that 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees. When managers fear giving feedback, or haven’t been trained on how to deliver it effectively, that’s a huge barrier to communication. On top of that, your team will never know what they’re doing well, or what needs work, and they’ll be held back from their full potential.
A Shift to Remote Work
While there are many benefits to working from home, a big downside is the extra effort required to communicate effectively. Sure, you have plenty of virtual ways to get in touch, but it lacks the same sense of closeness that in-person communication provides. When you don’t see your coworkers at the desk next to you, it becomes much easier to lose touch with them.
Research using data from more than 61,000 Microsoft employees over the first half of 2020 found that remote work decreased cross-group collaboration among employees, causing them to become more siloed.
So not only can a shift to remote work lead to poor communication in general, but it can also contribute to less communication between different departments, which hurts collaboration.
Lack of Time
One final reason for poor communication in the workplace? Lack of time. We’re all busy, and often, communication falls by the wayside because we think it’s easier to just get things done on your own instead of talking to your team about it. But this can often lead to less creativity, as we miss out on crucial differing perspectives.
6 Disastrous Effects of Poor Communication in the Workplace
1. Stress and Burnout
Feeling confused about what you’re expected to do and not knowing what’s going on within your organization is understandably stressful. If this goes on for too long, it can lead to job burnout.
2. Poor Performance
People cannot do their jobs well if they don’t have access to the information they need.
3. Lack of Appreciation
When leaders fail to verbally recognize their team’s hard work, this can lead to employees feeling unappreciated, which takes a toll on morale.
4. Decreased Employee Engagement
It’s tough for employees to feel enthusiastic about an organization that doesn’t keep them in the loop or show appreciation for their work.
5. Low Retention
Eventually, employees that suffer from poor communication in the workplace may leave for a different company.
6. Lack of Creativity
Creativity thrives with collaboration, and collaboration is only possible with communication. If your team doesn’t know how to talk to each other effectively, ideas and product development will stagnate.
How to Deal With Poor Communication in the Workplace
Begin by Listening
As we saw above, poor communication in the workplace is often a result of leadership failing to listen. So before you do anything to try to improve the situation, begin by asking your team for their feedback. Where do they see miscommunication happening? What would they like to see improve? What ideas do they have? Gather this information via online surveys, and consider making them anonymous so people feel more comfortable being completely honest.
Listening goes beyond just gathering feedback, though. You have to act on it next, and below, we’ll discuss some action steps you can take to bring your team feedback to life.
Draft a Communications Handbook
Based on the information you gather in the first step, draft a communications handbook. This will be the go-to source for your entire organization when it comes to when, where, and how to communicate with one another.
If you need some inspiration, check out Gitlab’s communication handbook, which is available to the public online. It’s more than 24,000 words beautifully detailing expectations when it comes to how Gitlab employees should convey information within their organization and outside of it.
Create an Internal Communication Strategy
In your communications handbook, you can include an internal communication strategy. This lays the groundwork for how each team member should communicate with one another and for how the leadership team will keep all employees in the loop.
Your strategy might include:
- Internal newsletters: Consider emailing a monthly newsletter to your employees with important organizational announcements so your employees stay in the know.
- All-hands meetings: All-hands meetings, also known as town halls, are a great way to bring the entire organization together to hear directly from the CEO, celebrate team and individual wins, and get answers to questions.
- Slack channels: Many companies create different Slack channels for different types of communication. You can have more serious ones, such as Slack channels to discuss bugs in your software, or lighthearted ones, such as a channel for sharing pet photos. Whatever the topic, it’s really about staying connected to your team.
Build Psychological Safety
Without psychological safety, your efforts to fix poor communication in the workplace will be futile. Psychological safety is crucial to effective communication and high performance in general. Building it takes time and effort. It begins with taking a step back and looking at how your company conveys its attitude about failure. Is failure punished? Or is it viewed as a learning opportunity? Do leaders actively solicit feedback from their team? Or do they go on a power trip and make decisions on their own? Find ways to create a safe space for risk-taking by letting your employees know that you want them to dare and innovate, and they won’t be punished if things don’t go as planned.
One way to build psychological safety is to show that you truly have an open-door policy. When an employee has critical feedback to give, is it welcomed? Does your team even know how to bring forth a grievance? Make sure this process is clearly outlined in your communications handbook. If you want to have good communication in your workplace, it begins with leaders showing vulnerability and displaying how they welcome tough conversations.
Remove Audio and Visual Distractions With the Click of a Button
The office—even the home office—is a distracting place. One easy way to make it more conducive to good communication is to install Krisp. Krisp is an app that eliminates background noise from virtual meetings (in real time!) and allows you to set a virtual background across all of your communication apps.
Just install the app and toggle the switch on, and you can communicate clearly during every call, without any distracting sounds or visuals.
Host Virtual Town Hall Meetings
Another way to build psychological safety is through virtual town halls, where every employee—from the CEO to the receptionist—can get together to discuss wins and losses and learn from both. This is a rare chance for the CEO to show vulnerability by discussing setbacks with the entire organization and showing how you, as a team, can overcome them.
A virtual town hall may also be the only opportunity that a team member gets direct access to the CEO to ask a burning question. You can hold these town halls once a month or once a quarter. They usually include an update from the CEO, updates from each team, “shoutouts” where team members can thank each other, and a Q&A.
Hold Regular One-on-Ones
Never underestimate the power of a manager meeting with a direct report, even if it’s once a month or once a quarter. It’s difficult for anyone to be vulnerable in front of a group. One-on-ones are an effective way to allow an employee to discuss hard topics and can establish open communication between managers and their team.
Be Selective About Communication Channels
When it comes to good communication, less is more. Having 15 different ways to talk to each other only leads to confusion and noise. Instead, be intentional and selective about the communication channels that you and your team use.
For example, you might designate email for external communication (such as between your team and their clients) and Slack for internal communication. And you might ban texting about work, and save phone calls for emergencies. Whatever you and your team decide works best, be sure to include it in your communications handbook.
Provide Communication Training—Especially to your Managers
As you saw earlier, most managers fear communicating with employees. Why? One reason might be that they’ve never been trained on how to do it properly, especially when it comes to delivering negative feedback or bad news. Consider hosting a communication workshop for all employees to attend, especially your managers. You can bring in a guest speaker or consultant who can provide the proper expertise and training to your employees, making open communication a less scary thing.
Say Goodbye to Poor Communication in the Workplace
Poor communication in the workplace can be fixed—you just need to know the causes. Once you know why it’s happening, you can start applying the tips in this article to overcome confusion, mistrust, and chaos in the work environment.
Good communication, especially for remote teams, begins with cutting out distractions during calls. Install Krisp today to experience distraction-free virtual meetings.